The most important elements in authenticating a sculpture that appears, or is claimed, to be Cybis involve the painting/decoration, mold impressions, and applied marks.
Painting and Decoration
This is the subtlest factor in determining whether a piece of Cybis is genuine and is the most challenging to master. The more Cybis sculptures one sees (if not in person then by careful study of photos of genuine pieces) the easier it will become to recognize the style of painting which has been typical of Cybis through the decades.
There is a very specific and consistent use of colors, tints, and above all the detail of faces and clothing that can only be described as “the Cybis look”. And if there is one area that is make-or-break, it is how the eyes, lips, and face tints are done… most especially the eye area. There is a delicacy and accuracy of touch, and a consistency of style, that identifies a Cybis piece. If an artist could not produce the traditional “Cybis face”, that artist was not employed there very long.
There are a couple of style characteristics that have remained consistent throughout the studio’s history. These are:
(1) Gold paint is not used for facial features (lips, eyes, or eyebrows.) There are, however, a few rare early 1950s religious pieces in which all of the figure’s exposed skin is covered in gold; one such is the House of Gold madonna and child seen in the 1950s Madonnas post, and also a young Jesus seen in the Religious Figures post.
(2) Upper eyelashes are not painted as individual ‘hairs’; instead, they are merely suggested by a thin solid line along the upper lid… resembling “eyeliner” rather than eyelashes. Lower eyelashes are not drawn or indicated at all. However, one circa-1950s exception to the “no painted eyelashes” rule can be seen in the Angels post, although it’s not known how many others (if any) were painted in that way.
Cybis sculptures fall into one of three main (as named by Cybis) categories of decoration:
“Bisque” (aka “white bisque“) = plain white matte surface throughout, with absolutely no applied color. It should be noted, though, that the bunny Mr. Snowball was categorized by the studio as a “bisque” sculpture even though he has very pale pink eyes. There is no other color anywhere else on the piece.
“Bisque with Gold” (aka “white with gold”) = This category of decoration appeared in the late 1980s with the introduction of the second Nativity set, which was available in both a color version and one in which the only color applied is 18k or 24k gold leaf. This technique was subsequently used for the Collectors Society pieces in the mid 1990s.
“Decorated” (aka “bisque decorated” or “color”) = a sculpture that has a color, a tint, or gold leaf applied to the original plain white bisque ground, in any quantity or location. The surface is still matte (with the exception of any 24k gold paint decoration which by its nature is not a matte surface; a large gilt decoration such as a crown may also be lightly glazed). The majority of Cybis sculptures are of this “decorated” type but quite a few were made in both white bisque and decorated versions. The white bisque version was almost always slightly less expensive.
“Stained glass” = this is Cybis’ word for what most people would call a glazed porcelain. It is shiny and smooth to the touch. The glaze is applied to the entire sculpture, not merely to specific parts of it, and it is highly fired. The piece may also be decorated with gold as well. Sometimes the colors are deeper and richer than the more typical shades. Many of the small madonnas and saints done as special commissions for local churches were done in this type of decoration, with gold paint also decorating a halo, a cross that the figure may be carrying, and so forth. The stained glass style of decoration was used far less often on retail pieces than the bisque (matte finish) styles. However, many of the sculptures dating from the early to mid 1950s have the high-gloss/stained glass finish.
There was also “Cypia” which was very rarely used, and not on any sculptures produced during the past 40 years. It was a form of stained glass decoration in which the contours of a white bisque sculpture were subtly highlighted with a soft sepia-tone paint in order to give them even more dimension; the piece was then glazed and re-fired.
The 1970s Cybis catalogs describe a decoration called “old coin gold” which was the gold decoration with the addition of “Cypia tonations” in order to create a specific finish, and that this technique was developed by the Cybis studio. I would assume that this finish differs in appearance from their standard 18k or 24k decoration but have never had the opportunity to compare them.
If a piece has applied decorations such as flowers, ribbons, and so forth, this is another area that is usually difficult for a copyist to imitate successfully. It takes great skill to properly fashion those elements.
Mold Marks (Impressions)
The location of the mold impression(s) varies by sculpture and it is important to note that there are sculptures – especially the 1950s ones – that have no mold impression at all. A few of the late 1940s or early 1950s pieces have a convex (raised) mold mark; later mold mpressions are always concave (recessed into the surface.) Examples of raised mold marks discovered thus far are the Eagle Mark, the Overlapping Double C mark and, in at least one instance, a raised Cybis signature. See the Signatures post for photographs of these.
On pieces that are not attached to a base and have a flat underside offering sufficient available space, the mold marks are often on the bottom where they are readily seen against the plain white bisque surface.
However, this is not a hard and fast rule because some freestanding pieces do have their mold impression elsewhere (such as on the hem of Lady Macbeth’s skirt, where three impressions appear along the edge as shown here). All sculptures that are attached to a base are designed so that the mold impressions are in a visible location. Likewise any design produced with felt covering the entire bottom will also have the mold marks elsewhere.
The mold impression of the Cybis name is in block capitals. Depending on the piece, the mold may or may not also bear the copyright symbol impression; most of the 1950s pieces do not have it. Many of the more recent sculptures are also marked either USA or U.S.A. in the mold.
You may also find — again according to the specific sculpture — one of several versions of the Cybis logo which is a stylized phoenix. The exact shape of the phoenix has evolved somewhat over the decades but until the late 1980s both wings were outspread and visible; the latest iteration depicts the bird in profile, flying to the left, as shown here. Again it is the newer sculptures that are the most likely to have one or both of the latter two mold impressions; older pieces were often made with simply the Cybis name impression.
Some sculptures (not all) also have a year mold-mark. This usually represents the year that the sculpture design was copyrighted, which may be a year earlier than the actual retail introduction year. It does not indicate the year in which that individual piece was actually created in the studo. This is an important point to remember when dealing with long-running open editions and limited editions that can often take several decades to be completed. It is impossible to know, by its impression or markings, the year in which any individual sculpture was actually made, in other words when it left the hands of the Cybis artist.
Thus a given sculpture may possibly have as few as only one mold impression (the Cybis name) or as many as five (the Cybis name, the copyright symbol, a year, USA or U.S.A, and the phoenix logo).
The Cybis Signature
Although any given Cybis sculpture design may have any combination of signature, limited edition number, or in-the-mold impressions, it is important to remember that every sculpture that left the Cybis studio in a legitimate manner was signed with the Cybis name. The location of the Cybis signature will vary by sculpture but it will always be in the same location in all such pieces. For instance the signature appearing on all of the original 1960s/70s Head of Girl sculptures is always located behind her left shoulder: It will not be in the center, nor behind her right shoulder, nor in the area where her arm would be if the bust was longer. The signature on every Baby Harp Seal is always on the underside of the piece, never anywhere else. The signature and sculpture number on every Lady Godiva are always found on the undecorated side of the part of her horse’s trappings that touches the ground, even though that area faces the viewer (an atypical location for a markings, which normally are on the “back” or on the underside, but on that particular sculpture that is where it always occurs); it will never appear on the shorter end of the trappings nor on the end of the horse’s tail. And so on. If the Cybis signature — no matter how similar in style the writing may appear — appears in a location differing from that shown on photos of a genuine sculpture, the authenticity of that piece should be subject to further examination.
At some point the Cybis studio began adding U.S.A (sometimes written USA with no periods between the letters) to the painted signature on some sculpture designs. Not all designs will have this designation and its absence should not be cause for concern. It is unusual to have the entire phrase “Made in USA” written by hand in paint but it has appeared on at least two designs thus far. Pieces with Trenton N.J. in the signature area are typically from the 1980s or later.
2020 Update: Please see this newly added post describing new signatures added to old pieces, and vice versa, as a result of actions the studio took in the 1990s and 2000s.
The complete absence of the Cybis signature is a red flag but only if the piece is from 1960 or later; some of the stamped Cybis name on 1950s pieces may have almost or completely faded. One of the studio’s cardinal rules has always been that the signature (or limited edition sculpture number) is the last thing added to any piece that leaves the workroom for retail sale. Until 2009, the studio’s policy was that any piece in less than perfect condition would be destroyed* . However, during the 1960s and 1970s (possibly even into the 1980s) imperfect pieces were put aside to be included in the studio’s annual holiday party, where they were auctioned and/or raffled off to the employees. Perhaps some unused test-colorways were included as well. However, I do not know whether any of them were signed or unsigned with the Cybis name.
* In 2008/2009 the Cybis Studio had a thankfully-short-lived foray into offering “slightly imperfect” sculptures for sale on eBay. That experiment did not last long. When the studio liquidated its remaining backstock in 2019, quite a few damaged pieces were included in the contents.
The actual number on a limited edition sculpture can be written either with or without a # symbol preceding it; either is legitimate. The previous photo of the Lady Macbeth markings shows the # symbol preceding the number, while the example above designates that the sculpture is number 14 of that limited edition. The lack of the # symbol is no cause for concern.
Likewise, an artist’s proof sculpture can be designated with either an AP or an A.P. … even, in at least one instance, written as # A.P. , as it appears on this genuine artist’s proof. However, it was never marked with the word “proof” or “sample”.
Another signature factor is paint color. With only a few exceptions, all signatures on post-1960 Cybis are painted in some shade of brown or occasionally in metallic gold, although some 1950s signatures were also done in blue, black/dark charcoal, or red which may fade to a dull pink. Signatures and Marks includes examples of these older paint colors. One exception to the ‘modern browns’ is the Twelve Drummers Drumming holiday ornament issued in 2000, at least one of which was signed in green paint; the Signatures post includes a photo of this.
On limited editions it is very common for the sculpture number to be in a darker shade than the Cybis name; this does not indicate a fake or a “fake limited edition”, it is simply because the numbering is always done as the absolute last step in its production after the last firing. The only legitimate metallic paint signature color is gold and even that is not often seen. Gold is most often used when the signature must be on the sculpture (rather than the underside) and the color of the sculpture itself is in shades of brown. Whether or not the painted signature appears immediately adjacent to any mold impressions is something that will vary between sculptures and is often based on the available space for it on that design.
Reference List of Real and Fake Cybis Markings
The following is a list of legitimate “applied” (meaning painted or stamped; not a mold impression) Cybis marks on pieces produced for retail sale. There are entirely different marks that appear on earlier examples of Cybis’ work, such as the papka items, spatterware, and Cordey items; some of these are seen in the Signatures post.
Cybis (usually hand painted, though many 1950s pieces were stamped)
Cybis Fine China (on 1950s pieces only; it can be on a single line, or with Fine China positioned below the Cybis name)
Cybis U.S.A. or Cybis USA
Trenton, N.J. or Trenton, NJ
Made in U.S.A. in black ink/paint only (see the Signatures post for an explanation of these few)
the copyright symbol (may be either handpainted, stamped, or both)
the phoenix logo handpainted (seen on a few specific designs)
AP, A.P., ‘A.P.’, #A.P. or #AP (all are designations of an artist’s proof)
the sculpture number (which may or may not be preceded by a # symbol; either is legitimate) on limited editions
the combination of a sculpture number PLUS one of the artist’s proof designations (this may or may not be legitimate, because although the studio did unfortunately add the AP designation to an already-numbered piece occasionally — more’s the pity — it would be also be easy for someone else to do after the fact; thus, further research is key to determining legitimacy)
the special 50th Anniversary stamp which can be seen at the end of the Signatures post
The following is a list of “suspicious” Cybis markings. If any of the following designations appear on the sculpture, a possibility exists that it is not a genuine Cybis.
Suspicious and/or Fake Marks:
“Made in America” definitely indicates a fake
“Made by Cybis” or “Made in USA by Cybis” [these exact phrases definitely indicate a fake]
Limited Edition or Ltd Ed or Ltd. [an exception to this general rule is the hand painted LE followed by the pound sign and a number which has appeared on at least two examples of Sheherazade.]
“Cybis China”, as this exact phrase on a single line and not including the word “Fine” anywhere
“Fine Porcelain” [definitely indicates a fake]
the phoenix logo as a paint stamp rather than freehand or mold impression
the actual word porcelain anywhere on the piece.
Any of these marks, although common on other types of decorative ceramics, should raise suspicion if found on a Cybis.
The topics of legitimate molds and bases are discussed in Authenticating Cybis Porcelain – Part One.
There is also a separate ‘Hall of Shame’ post devoted to Cybis copies and knockoffs.
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